It was a shoulder-high delivery, rising from short of good length, a bit outside the off-stump. The batsman did not move his feet, stood up to his full height, and swung his bat, parallel to the ground. The whack of the ball hitting the bat right at its centre could he heard above the crowd’s noise. The ball travelled back at an amazing pace, missing the bowler and nearly decapitating the umpire, who dived to the ground. Having failed to murder an innocent man, the ball bulleted straight down the ground to the boundary. It was the most jaw-dropping cross-batted shot I had seen in a serious match for a very long time. It was somewhere between the contemptuous swatting of a fly and a tennis shot right down the line.

And it was Rahul Dravid who had hit it.

A friend and I, who had been watching the IPL game over a drink, had to rub our eyes in disbelief. This was the man we had watched for 17 years, from his debut at Lord’s in 1996 to his exploits last summer in England. The perfect technique, the backlift just as prescribed in the textbooks, the missing gap between bat and pad, the head rock-steady—and there he was, throwing everything to the winds!

It was exhilarating.

Is Dravid finally enjoying his cricket? Has he freed himself at last of all those shackles of responsibility, learned behaviour, the tyranny of the should?

Well, he couldn’t have, since he has been an inspirational leader for Rajasthan Royals and led them almost to the top of the table. Chennai Super Kings is ahead of the Jaipur team only on run rate. Rajasthan’s position in the semifinals is assured. And last night, Rajasthan beat Chennai, who have been favourites right from the start, and also enjoy a unique home advantage: the players of a certain country are not permitted to play in Chennai.

In the first IPL, Rajasthan Royals were rank outsiders and came from behind, under Shane Warne’s ebullient leadership and infectious enthusiasm, to win the tournament. Can Dravid repeat that feat with his bunch of youngsters and the always-dangerous Shane Watson? I would certainly be cheering for them. And now that Dravid has hit that cross-batted shot, anything is possible.

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